Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations He has brought on the earth. 9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire. (Psalm 46:8-9, NRSV)
With the novel coronavirus pandemic, we worry about what might happen to our families and friends, our workplaces and churches, our cities and countries. We fear the desolations that might come as this virus continues to wreak havoc in our world.
In Psalm 46, God visits desolations on the earth, desolations of a most astounding and shocking kind. God’s desolations fill us, not with fear, but with hope. The first two verses of Psalm 46 state, “God is our refuge and strength . . . . Therefore we will not fear.” This beloved psalm has so much to say to us in this historic calamity we are facing together. It speaks to all of us at work, church, community, and family.
Psalm 46:8 invites us: “Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations He has brought on the earth.” We are to examine, not just God’s works, but also His desolations. This sounds rather unsettling, doesn’t it? We’d rather focus on God’s healings and blessings, not on His desolations. What do these desolations include? Perhaps God’s judgments on those who disobey Him? His punishments for sin? A giant flood? Or . . . ?
The Hebrew word translated as “desolation” can mean “waste, desolation, horrific or atrocious event.” In Isaiah 64:10, we read: “Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.” Jeremiah 5:30 uses the word with emphasis on how it makes us feel to see such devastation, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land.” So talk of God’s desolations rightly makes us distressed, at first. We might even be horrified.
But as we continue on in Psalm 46 to see just what devastations the psalmist has in mind: “[The LORD] makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire” (v. 9). The things that usually bring devastation to the earth – war and its weapons – are the things devastated by the hand of God. We might say that God desolates the desolations. God destroys destruction and wages war on warfare, thus bringing God’s true peace to the whole earth.
Behind Psalm 46 lies a vision of God’s coming kingdom, a day when peace and justice will fill the earth (for example, see Isaiah 9:7). In that day, human violence will cease. Under God’s reign, people “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4). Deathly weapons will become tools for life-promoting food production. Moreover, human beings will be healed of “all” our diseases (Psalm 103:3). As we read in the prophet Malachi, “But for you who revere My Name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2).
Thus, Psalm 46 reminds us that disease, including COVID-19, is not what God ultimately intends for our world. The future peace of God includes both health and flourishing. We should at all times be strengthened and moved by a vision of God’s kingdom. During a crisis, we need this vision even more than usual because it’s so easy to become focused only on our challenges, disappointments, griefs, and fears. We can lose sight of what God is doing and will do in the world. Yet, when we keep this vision in mind and heart, when it animates our lives, then we’ll be able to act both wisely and resiliently.
Psalm 46 also reminds us that God is at work in the world right now. We can behold God’s work – including His ironic desolations – not only in our vision of the future, but also in our current reality. In fact, God often uses what we perceive in the moment as desolations to advance His Kingdom. In this time of history, it’s hard to know exactly how God will use our current pandemic for good. Yet, we can be confident that the God who is with us now is also at work in us, through us, and around us. We hold tightly to the promise found in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (NIV). “In all things” God is at work for good. With this confidence we live, trusting that God is at work in us for His purposes and glory. As we read in Philippians, “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
I want to invite you to behold God’s works this week. What do you see?
Think of a time God was at work in your life in hard and difficult things. Can you think of a time or two when God worked redemptively in a situation that seemed to be hopeless?
How might the vision of God’s peaceful kingdom make a difference in your life right now?
As you think of God’s working in your life, thank Him for His love, grace and goodness. May those memories give you confidence in God’s sovereignty today.